With Sanctuaries Empty, Churches Zoom Along

For a recent sermon to address the challenges of social distancing, the Rev. Daniel Kanter reached back for a Revolutionary War-era quote from Thomas Paine.

“There are the times that try men’s souls,” the pastor of First Unitarian Church of Dallas told his congregation in an online service that better resembled a television studio broadcast than community worship.

“We feel like these are times that try all souls and for so many reasons,” he told People Newspapers later. “Not the least of which is we are social creatures who need each other.”

The COVID-19 pandemic also has prompted churches in these times to try new things. Sanctuaries sit empty, but congregations are alive and learning as clergy and laity grow accustomed to virtual means for connecting and worshiping.

“Virtual church is an echo of the real thing, but we are bearing up and working through daily online meetings, classes, and weekly worship,” Kanter said.

Nationwide, including in the Park Cities, churches are using tools such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Facebook live, and Facetime, to conduct worship, Bible studies, meetings, and even elaborate choral anthems.

“There is no rehearsal for this and no class in seminary for responding to a pandemic. So we are making it up as we go along.” -The Rev. Daniel Kanter

“Let’s keep our social distancing because we are going to continue to save lives, but continue to love the Lord and love each other so well,” the Rev. Jeff Warren told his Park Cities Baptist Church congregation in the video sermon for Easter morning.

He also praised the many ways members continued to reach out to each other. At Highland Park United Methodist Church, the Rev. Matt Tuggle, the executive minister, noted how in addition to online tools, church staff and. members also had made thousands of telephone calls.

“Some staff and church members have noted that (in some ways) they feel more connected than ever,” he said. “Our mission is the same: to help people become deeply devoted followers of Jesus Christ.”

Shawn Davis, director of communications for Park Cities Presbyterian Church, said, “Our members have stepped up in checking on each other and doing what they can to help out neighbors.”

One member began distributing “Fear Not” yard signs, Davis added.

“Our biggest challenge is probably keeping our people ‘at home,’” he said. “So ideas are coming up left and right for helping our community, but we have to be careful in our eagerness to ‘fix things’ that we continue to respect the authorities in our city and county governments.”

HPUMC altered its partnership with Preston Hollow Catering, the company that has used the church’s commercial kitchen for years, to address a variety of needs. Church funding has allowed the caterer to retain and add staff who prepare thousands of meals weekly distributed through 10 community organizations, Tuggle said.

The Rev. Matt Tuggle of Highland Park United Methodist Church writes about hope in a guest column at peoplenewspapers.com

“There is no rehearsal for this and no class in seminary for responding to a pandemic,” Kanter said. “So we are making it up as we go along.

“These are the times that try our souls, and we are not giving up,” he said. “We are attending to each other one day at a time.”


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William Taylor

William Taylor, editor of Park Cities People and Preston Hollow People, shares a name and a birthday with his dad and a love for community journalism with his colleagues at People Newspapers. He joined the staff in 2016 after more than 25 years working for daily newspapers in such places as Alexandria, Louisiana; Baton Rouge; McKinney; San Angelo; and Sherman, though not in anywhere near that order. A city manager once told him that “city government is the best government” because of its potential to improve the lives of its residents. William still enjoys covering municipal government and many other topics. Follow him on Twitter @Seminarydropout. He apologizes in advance to the Joneses for any angry Tweets that might slip out about the Dallas Cowboys during the NFL season. You also can reach him at [email protected]. For the latest news, click here to sign up for our newsletter.

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